Do You Know These Sizzlin’ Southern Sayings?

Well, I declare!

In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara says: “I do declare, Frank Kennedy, if you don’t look dashing with that new set of whiskers!”

But we declare if your only knowledge of Southern sayings comes from Gone With the Wind, you’re missing out on a lot of Southern expressions.

The distinct English dialect of the American South, which has a close relationship with Black English (African American Vernacular English), is fascinating—and plenty lively. Though you're likely to hear Southernisms such as hold your horses and pretty as a peach nationwide, you’ll likely only hear the following from a true Southerner.

I declare

Speaking of I declare, this now old-fashioned phrase acts as flustered response to an insult or an unbelievable story about someone who sadly made it into the rumor mill. The swear-word equivalent would be something along the lines of No sh*t!I declare may have come from an English oath (the sworn proclamation kind) declaring that no foreign parties have power to subvert the Crown. By extension, maybe the Southern US expression was the way for an affronted or shocked listener to say “none of that crazy untoward talk or behavior shall have power over me.”

catawampus

What’s catawampus? It’s typically used to describe a situation that’s gone askew, awry, or out of alignment.

Curiously, this word might have roots in offbeat British humor from the 1840s. Catawampus (or, cattywampus) may have been popularized by Brits who delighted in parodying Southern vernacular. Somehow, the word went full circle and is now considered a distinctly Southern invention.

be fixin' to

We're fixin’ to tell you more Southernisms, and now we’re doing just that. When a feller’s fixin’ to do something, they're “about to” do it. The doin’ hasn’t been done yet. And, when the doin’s been done, the feller done did it.

Because this is a progressive verb (you’ll make progress with it for sure), remember “You were fixin’ to patch the hole in the wall.” Never say “you fixed to” do it! You’d be in a real fix then.

dagnabbit, dagonnit, dadgummit, dad-blasted, dadburnit

That's a mouthful, but we lumped these all together because they are all substitutes for (God) d*mn it.

The nabbit, gonnit, gummit, blasted, and burnit match the rhythm of damn it, but they can easily be modified for use as an adjective or adverb: “That dagnab idiot didn’t look to the dadgum left and, dadburnit, he crossed over in my dad-blasted lane and dadburn near hit me.” When used as a stand-alone oath, hold out on the first syllable and accentuate the second: “DaaadGUMMit! Where’s my blasted phone?”

Coke

Quick, what do you call a soft drink? The word you use for a fizzy, carbonated drink reveals a lot more about you than you know. If you refer to it—no matter the brand or flavor—as Coke, chances are you grew up in the South. If you answered soda, you probably hail from either coast or some patches around St. Louis or Milwaukee.Pop lovers congregate mostly in the Midwest and western states. An odd few (6% of Americans) do use soft drink, according to the Pop vs. Soda web site devoted to this age-old debate. In the Deep South? You might say cocola.  

tarnation

What in tarnation? is a common way to use this next Southern “cussemism.” It traces to the 1700s and is based on darnation, the mild form of damnation. There’s probably a connection between eternal damnation and tarnation.

Historically, Southerners in the Appalachian mountains pronounced eternal as "tarnal." That pronunciation suggests a clever word-smoosh between tarnal and damnation, so the savvy Appalachians could euphemistically express their anger without wasting an extra breath. Well, hell’s bells.

reckon

I reckon is the way many Southerners get to surmising about something or other. “I reckon she skipped town on account of her mama being madder than a wet hen.” Alongside fixin’ to, this is a quintessential term to strike a match under your vocab and hear it holler “Yeehaw!!!”

Reckon has ancestry tracing all the way back to the 1000s (and maybe older still), and originally means "to count, calculate."

full as a tick

After eating a big, delicious Southern dinner Granny just made, you have to finish up with a slice of sweet potato pie, right? Well, that might just push you over the edge, and as you lean back you're bound to say, “I’m as full as a tick.” It'd be plumb crazy not to express yourself (and your full belly) with this fun, old Southern idiom. 

can’t never could

This string of double negatives is actually meant as encouragement! Can’t never could is a reminder that if you don’t even try, you won't ever accomplish your goal. Georgia-born blogger Jennifer Collins says she always rolled her eyes when her mom said this to her. Now, she admits to saying this to her children. And yes, they roll their eyes, too. A true Southern tradition.

make groceries

Don’t worry, if you’re helping a friend make groceries, you’re not expected to create food from scratch. You’re still going to the grocery store. (Or maybe the Piggly Wiggly, a Southern market chain that originated in Memphis, Tennessee).

The expression make groceries is a translation of the French faire son marché (“to do one’s market shopping”). Faire can mean both “do” and “make.” This phrase entered the Southern vernacular via Louisiana and is in regular use in the New Orleans area.

that dog won’t hunt

Maybe not all dogs were made for hunting ... some prefer the warmth of a fireplace and the comfort of your lap. But, in the South, if your boss says “that dog won’t hunt” in a meeting, it probably means your suggestion or idea needs improvement. Poor little doggy.

This phrase enjoyed national exposure in 1988 after Texas Governor Ann Richards remarked: "When we pay billions for planes that won’t fly, billions for tanks that won’t fire, and billions for systems that won’t work—that old dog won’t hunt.”

git

There is no typical Southern accent. Accents vary by region—and sometimes even city to city. Depending on where you are, you’re likely to hear words combined together (gonna for “going to”) and different vowel sounds than you're used to, including mah for "my" and git for “get.”Git has been in use since the 16th century all over the country, but is particularly common in the South, where it appears in everything from classic literature (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird) to personal correspondence (“I want you to write me as soon as you git this letter,” from a letter dating back to the Civil War). 

sugar honey iced tea

What better way to sweeten the sour than with a classic Southern libation? Yelling out this humorous backronym for sh*t might just tame the anger a bit. Take a load off the ole dogs, sit on your front porch, and let your know neighbors know about that sugar honey iced tea you had to deal with today.

Got a swing? Even better.

the creek don’t rise

Often said as “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” this expression means, with a little bit of luck and no unexpected problems, things should work out.

It seems this saying is a favorite expression of country singers. Johnny Cash had a hit with the song “If The Good Lord’s Willing,” and Hank Williams Jr. titled his song  “If the Good Lord’s Willin’ (And The Creeks Don’t Rise).”

y'all

There’s nothing more Southern than a lively “Hey, y’all!” And don’t you dare think of spelling it ya’llSouthern Living has decreed this contraction of "you all" is spelled one way, and one way only.

Where did this contraction, popular in both African American English and Southern American English, come from? Some say it originated with the Scottish-Irish term ye aw. But, what we do know is English once used you and ye strictly to address a group of people. Eventually, you became a singular pronoun, and we lost the plural pronouns.

Something needed to fill in the gap: Y’all is one solution associated with the South, with all generally serving to clarify more than one you is being addressed.

bless your heart

If you’re not using this phrase ... what are you waiting for? It’s a one-size-fits-all reply that can both express sympathy and insult someone, depending on the delivery. There’s no better zinger than a bless your heart delivered in a condescending tone of voice that implies, as the Southern Decoder puts it, “you’re dumb, homely, or otherwise impaired, but you can’t help it.” Go ahead and practice it in the mirror a few times. You'll thank us later!

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